Only Baseball Matters


Archive for December, 2004

…. Where we’re at

Only Baseball Matters comes up as #4 in this Google Rank I just did. In fact, technically, it’s #3, as SF Gate: Sports: Giants is #2 and #3. I searched using SF Giants and Baseball.

That’s an improvement over the first time I did it, about two months ago, when I was #5. Using just the SF Giants, I am also coming in #3.

Of course, I want to be #1, but really, what I want is to be the best, (and, of course, increase my readership exponentially). To that end, I am continually striving to offer something different, something from the outside looking in.

Unlike the boys at Baseball Prospectus, who are heavily into numbers crunching, or the boys at The Hardball Times, who are looking more and more like a (high-quality) newspaper everyday; I want to offer a sometimes cynical, often-times angry, and all the time honest look at the everyday workings of the game, the players and the issues. If there’s a writer saying something that’s a bunch of bullshit, I’m gonna go after them. If there’s a GM or a player doing the same, I’m gonna go after them.

Truth, or at least, honesty, and a real passion for exposing hypocrisy; are the things that I seem to really get focused on, (I’m sure most of you already know that). Nonetheless, I am not above criticism, and I have been wrong, (sometimes very wrong (see, Rose, Peter Edward). That’s fine. It comes with putting your thoughts down for everyone to read, and signing your name to it.

That’s me, and that’s OBM. Thanks to all who stop by regularly, and spread the word, send your friends. Pin my guestmap, I really do check it all the time. Send me an email, post some backtalk, whatever. And if anyone knows how to get the Instapundit to give me a plug and a link, please let me know. ;-)

…. Cash is king

Anybody notice how much money is being thrown around this off-season? After the last two seasons of bitching and moaning about how they couldn’t afford any players, virtually every team is out there siging players to massive, out of sight deals. Extra years, extra cash. Even my SF Giants, owners of their own ballpark and all of the inherent costs contained within, have been throwing around their wallet, (albeit on the ancient and decrepit). Once again, it just goes to show you just how seriously you have to take what the commissioner and these team owners and GM’s are telling you about the state of baseball’s finances.

Arizona was on the verge of bankruptcy. They put out some feelers, got a bunch of investors to pony up, and boom. Instead of being $100 million in the hole, they “find” $260 million dollars.

The funding comes in the form of $260 million in capital over a 10-year period – $160 million raised from the team’s four general partners – Kendrick, Dale Jensen, Mike Chipman and Jeffrey Royer – and $100 million from community investors.

Gee, what other “virtually bankrupt” business do you think could pull that off?

A bigger question for Giants fans, (particularly as they watch game-breaking free agents sign everywhere but here), is how come the Giants can’t pull something like this off? What is preventing Magowan’s partners from either getting some new investors to pony up a little scratch, or doing the ponying up themselves? Anybody got an answer to that one?

The Giants value, (according to this 2002 Forbes piece), was $333 million, and had risen 40% in the previous year. In this year’s Forbes piece, we see that the Giants value has risen to $368 million dollars, an increase of over 10% in just over two seasons, and that their revenue stream has risen from $138 million to $153 million. Also noteworthy is that the team’s debt/value (which includes stadium debt, a finite aspect that will end in 15 years) has dropped from 59% to 46%.

The SF Giants were purchased for $100 million dollars back in 1992. Here’s the Forbes’ 2004 Giants’ page. That’s a difference of $268 million dollars, from what Magowan & company paid for the team, and what it’s worth today. If the D’backs could scrape up $260 million to land the players they feel can carry them into contention, why can’t the Giants?

We don’t even need $260 million, or even $100 million. Beltran can probably be had for $90 million for six years. He could be the player that carries the team past the Bonds era. We would be paying him for his prime seasons. And he’s still out there! Go get him! Stop telling me the money’s not there. It is! There can be no doubt that there is more money out there, by a mile, than you’ve been telling us all along. Spend it, now. The missing piece on both a championship run and the future is sitting at home, watching Sportscenter; and wondering how come nobody wants him. The time has never been better to make this move.

Last season, we watched Guerrero go win the AL MVP, (in his first season, no less), when he could have been THE difference for us. Don’t let it happen again, please.

…. Keep it continuous

Over at the Hardball Times, you can find a new steroids and baseball article, written by Kevin Gilligan, Ph.D., and Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D.. The two men go to great lengths to define, describe and finally to denounce the use of any of what they classify as performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s).

I would take exception to one aspect of their article, which is quite well done, for the most part.

In presenting the FDA (the governing body in charge of regulating the use of virtually all drugs), they fail to adequately examine the political and/or economic pressures that are behind many of the FDA’s practices and decisions.

Today, the FDA oversees the vast and complex process of approving product safety and efficacy of food products (other than meat and poultry), human and animal drugs, therapeutic agents of biological origin, medical devices, radiation-emitting products for consumer, medical, and occupational use, cosmetics, and animal feed. There are approximately 9,100 highly trained employees of the FDA that are experts in the fields of chemistry, pharmacology, medicine, microbiology, veterinary science, and the law. Nobody claims perfection on the part of the FDA, but the current process of experimentation, study, and approval seems effective, especially given the demands placed on the FDA personnel to expedite the approval or rejection of an enormous number of drugs and other products.

…. Any of (steroids) side effects would be a non-starter with any FDA review panel considering the merits of an Investigational New Drug (IND). All of them together should condemn these drugs, in the way in which they are being used, to the list of controlled substances. Manufacturers and physicians face stiff sanctions for developing, supplying, or prescribing any substance that is ingested as a drug and that has not gained FDA approval.

In this Harper’s magazine piece, written by Ronald J. Glasser (Ronald J. Glasser, M.D., is a Minneapolis specialist in pediatric nephrology and rheumatology), the poor performance of the FDA is highlighted:

The Food and Drug Administration presents (a) self-defeating pattern of regulatory behavior. In May of this year, the agency refused to approve a morning-after contraceptive pill for over-the-counter use, even after its own expert advisory panel recommended it. Far worse is the degree to which the FDA panders to its industrial constituency. Drugs receive approval without adequate testing; the agency dithers when patients begin to die; eventually it turns out that adverse findings were ignored or suppressed. Often more concerned for the well-being of the pharmaceutical industry than for the health of American citizens, the FDA challenges states that seek to purchase cheaper Canadian drugs for their citizens and ignores the ongoing concentration of drug and vaccine production into the hands of fewer and larger companies, which has led to greater consumer costs and vaccine shortages. The agency has shown no inclination to pressure manufacturers into adopting new technologies that would allow the timely and safe development of new vaccines in response to emerging diseases. Not too long ago the FDA supported the pharmaceutical industry’s wish to give antidepressant drugs to children despite the agency’s own finding that such drugs might cause them to commit suicide.

I have written about this before, there are many reasons why the PED’s listed have been illegal, their side effects should hardly be considered the only reason. The War on Drugs has made it impossible for anything like a reasoned debate. In fact, part of the reason for the dearth of studies on both the efficacy and real dangers of these PED’s is because they are illegal. I find it a bit questionable for anyone, doctor or otherwise, to consistently argue that these drugs are dangerous with so little empirical data. (And before you go there, I am not arguing that they are safe. I’m simply pointing out that freedom of choice should, in light of such limited real data, allow me to make that determination for myself).

And from the July, 2004 Harper’s Index:

Chance that a prescription drug approved by the FDA will be recalled or require relabeling within 25 years of its release: 1 in 5 [Dr. Karen E. Lasser, Harvard Medical School (Cambridge, Mass.)]

Percentage change in the number of prescription-drug products recalled by the FDA since 1998: +40 [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]

…. Legalese

Over at the Sports Economist, I found this Legal debate on the steroids issue in baseball. The two men involved, Paul Finkelman and Gary Roberts, are both lawyers, and I thought it would be instructive to look at some of the assumptions, provable or problematic; that color the issue.

First off, they begin the debate by writing, “…. Bonds hit many of his dingers while using steroids.” Well, that’s a hell of a start. From a legal standpoint, I’d suggest that they wouldn’t be allowed to say that in a court of law and get away with it. I’m surprised they’d do it in this forum.

Finkelman then begins the debate by calling for stringent testing and one year and lifetime bans for a first and second failed test. This begs the question of steroids, or for that matter, any other drug testings effectiveness or possible error. A lifetime ban for someone like, say, Sammy Sosa; could cost the player many millions of dollars. The Players Association will never, ever, agree to something like that.

Roberts then counters;

Major League Baseball players make huge salaries. If young people entering professional baseball are willing to take the risk of dying young in order to reach for the brass ring of fame, glory, and fortune, why not let them? (Barry Bonds may die when he’s 50, but he will certainly have lived an exciting, glorious, and pampered life—who is to say his was a worse life than the guy who lives 85 dull and boring years toiling away as a law professor, or whatever?) These athletes are adults and understand the choices. And in the process, our athletes provide the public with fantastic entertainment. If we are going to ban every activity that jeopardizes the health or safety of the athletes, then why not make boxing illegal? Require that NASCAR cars have governors that prevent speeds of over 80 mph? Outlaw wrestlers from going on crash diets to make weight? Or even outlaw football? (The number of former NFL players that hobble around on arthritic knees and ankles in their 40s and 50s is remarkable.) In short, if the public wants to see 500 foot home runs and there are young men willing to run the health risks associated with taking substances that allow them to hit those home runs and make millions of dollars, why not cut the pretense of public outrage and let them do it?

Hmmmm.. Sound familiar? Seriously, this, to me, is where the steroids debate needs to be. The health risks of steroids, as I have stated repeatedly, have been misrepresented and grossly distorted; so much so that major sportswriters have been writing that using them will lead to an early death. The Daily News’ sports columnist and cartoonist, Bill Gallo, recently published a cartoon that showed a grave with Giambi’s name. here’s his measured take on the issue.

Back to the debate. Finkelman counters by continuing to insist that:

Baseball must protect the integrity of the game itself. Steroids undermine the integrity by placing in doubt the skills of the players, as fans assume that homers are hit because of steroids, not skill.

Steroids are obviously dangerous to the players. (italics mine)

…. In addition, the players association should come out for a total ban as well. Until the union does that it is not acting in the best interest of its member and is forcing the members to choose between their health and their jobs. No one should face that choice when, as in this case, it can so easily be avoided.

Many professions put their participants at risk, some at huge risks, health-wise, actual danger, whatever. To suggest that baseball has some responsibility to “protect” the players from themselves is absurd, which Roberts then details:

We allow people to take serious risks to themselves in order to build bridges and skyscrapers, to engage in dangerous sports (like boxing, racing cars at enormous speeds, being shot out of canons, or jumping canyons on motorcycles), to work with hazardous materials, and to do all sorts of other very dangerous things to benefit people in one way or another.

OK, that’s enough of my cutting and pasting. Go to the link and read it, it’s pretty good.

Update: Both Dan Lewis and Travis Nelson have something to say about the steroids issue. Check ‘em out.

…. Big-time

One of my earliest supporters and friends in the basbeball blogosphere was Will Carroll. He and I corresponded, spoke on the phone, he even interviewed me for one of his earliest radio shows. He has taken his work to a pretty impressive level, being cited and publicized by Peter Gammonds, (recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame), among moany others.

Now, he makes a serious splash, with this NY Times op-ed piece on the steroids scandal.

Reading it, I found it to be a measured and reasonable response to the hysteria so many writers are guilty of, and I am glad it came from one of the boys, so to speak. Congratulations to Will. Here’s hoping he continues his efforts as a trail-blazer for all of us.

…. What?

In this article, we are treated to some of Brian Sabean’s inner thought’s on the Mike Matheny signing. “There’s no telling how many runs he’s going to save because he doesn’t make many mistakes behind the plate.”

Uh, Brian? There is a telling of how many runs he’s gonna save, because there are these funny things called stats that you can look at to determine the answer to questions like that.

The ’04 Giants made 101 errors, which was 28 more than the best team in the league, LA, which made 73. The Giants ERA was 4.29, the Dodgers was 4.01. The Giants allowed 695 earned runs in 2004, and 770 total runs in 2004, which means that they allowed 75 unearned runs. The Dodgers allowed 650 earned runs in 2004, and 684 total runs, meaning that they allowed 34 unearned runs.

So that 28 errors made difference could be said, (in a very rough sense), to have caused the Giants to allow an extra 41 runs.

In roughly the same number of innings, Matheny’s catchers ERA, (the ERA allowed while he was in the game), was 3.88, AJ’s was 4.23, roughly the diffrerence in the team’s ERA. Matheny made 1 error in 122 games, Double Play AJ also made 1 error. Matheny threw out 16 runners while allowing 38 stolen bases, AJ threw out 15 runners while allowing 51 stolen bases. Matheny had 58 assists, while AJ had 56. Matheny started 10 double plays, and AJ started 6. So, there you have it. You think Matheny’s going to be worth more than ten percent of that 41 runs? I fail to see how he could.

That’s the beauty of Bill James, by the way. He was the first person I ever read who said, hey, before you go taking what these guys say as some sort of sermon on the mount, the statistics are there to tell you if they’re bullshitting you or if they know what they are talking about. Sabean is bullshitting you about this stuff. For reasons that he cannot explain or defend, he is spending millions of dollars on old, washed up has-beens or never-beens. So he says, “Hey, this guy’s a defensive whiz.” Yeah, he’s also one of the worst-hitting catchers in baseball. And we’re giving him close to $12 million dollars (if you remember to factor in the $2 million dollar buyout in ’07) over the next three seasons.

Sabean is unwilling to risk the possibility of a younger player struggling through a slump or somehow failing. So, he signs players with track records of major league play, regardless of whether that record is one of success or failure. If someone else has been paying them to play in the majors, that’s enough for him. That’s called playing it safe, to the point of absurdity. That’s why we have a 35-year old starting lineup. Because Sabean doesn’t want to look stupid. His decisions are defensible because somebody else would have signed these guys if he didn’t. The fact that they cannot produce is completely immaterial. They make him look like he knows what he’s doing. And if some of the old-timers get hurt, well, you can’t say that’s Sabean’s fault. Injuries are part of the game.

Oh, did I mention that baseball keeps track of injuries, too? And that they are almost as predictable as hitting and defense and pitching stats are?

Brian Sabean continued his efforts to field the oldest starting lineup in major league history, today signing 37-year old Mike Matheny to a three-year, $9 million dollar deal. Again, I am confounded, astounded, and frankly amazed that a team that couldn’t figure out a way to sign the newly-crowned AL MVP for something around $12 million dollars a year, can run out and give $3 and $4 million dollars a year to a bunch of guys with no upside whatsoever!!!

Amazing. Why this season? What was stopping the Giants from making a deal, any deal for a team that finished a single game out of a playoff spot last year? All of a sudden, we have millions of dollars to throw away on a bunch of geriatrics?!? JT Snow, Bonds, Grissom, Matheny, Vizquel…. are you kidding me? What are the odds three out of these five make it through the season injury-free?

At this rate, maybe Sabean, still in the market for left-handed relief, can trade for John Franco, who’s only 44 years old. At least he’s younger than the manager.

Update: Doh! Mike Matheny’s only 34-years old. Stupid me.

…. Boss men

Felipe Alou had some interesting things to say about Bonds in Sports Illustrated piece.

There’s always been stuff in the game like ‘greenies’ and ‘red juice’ and alcohol that players thought would help them get through a slump or a week of being tired or give them a 10-point-higher average. There was a time when players thought that if they had a shot of whiskey, that would help them get through the cold weather. And some guys did. Now there are things available that weren’t then — substances to get stronger. So it would be really easy for me as an old guy to drop the hammer on those guys, whoever they are, who use steroids.

But, in fact, Alou did not drop the hammer. He voiced an opinion that I believe was completely in line with what the Giants, as an organization, really believe.

Major League Baseball is a very powerful organization. But as long as nobody’s able to put Barry’s swing on hold — except for the pitchers that walk him — I don’t care about that.

This was in reference to the cancelled Mastercard promotion of Bonds’ historic home run chase. But, as evidenced by their lack of comment, censure or notice; the Giants could care less about this “scandal.” For them, just as for any individual team or player; the “how you get there,” (“there” being sold out ballparks and playoff payoffs), is immaterial. Get there, that’s all that matters.

And to some degree, it is all that matters. Nobody is talking about taking away the Giants NL championship trophy from 2002; and if the Giants had held that 5-run lead in Game Six, nobody’d be talking about taking away their World Series trophy either. Should they?

And Bonds’ former manager, Dusty Baker, defended Bonds in this SF Chronicle piece.

You’ve got to take Barry at his word. A man’s innocent until proven guilty. Hey, if that’s what he says, and if that’s what he says before a grand jury, that’s the only thing you can go by. I mean, at this point, my opinion doesn’t mean nothing. I’m not on the witness stand, and I’m not on the jury.

…. Keep it continuous

Skip Bayless, who has written some poorly researched, biased pieces about Bonds and steroids, gets it right in ESPN piece.

…. Several Bay Area media members I respect — guys who knew Bobby Bonds – believe Barry was taught far too much respect for the game to stoop to steroids.

I once argued (on KNBR’s call-in show) with Skip about Pete Rose, (and I was the one who was eventually proven wrong on that one), and what I remember about the argument was that Skip was respectful, even-handed, and suprising in he all but admitted that his “knowledge” of Rose’s transgressions was based on other people’s research and writings that he had hardly read.

This is an odd stance for him to take, as he has in the past taken a pretty speculative view of Bonds’ possible use. Nonetheless, he is right, Bonds’ still has to be given some measure of possible doubt. How much? Hard to say.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Will Carroll has an informative and in-depth article on steroids, and as such, it is a must-read, (even if you have to subscribe to get it).

In the case of Steroids v. Baseball, a vastly different process than the one that is supposed to be taking place in United States v. Conte, we have all made rash judgments, sweeping generalizations and false conclusions. Steroids, like drugs or Pete Rose, seem to push rationality and logic out the window. Fans and players who love the game passionately defend any attack at the very soul of “our game,” so anything that challenges our perceptions, rightly or wrongly, is likely to get this same treatment.

…. You want the truth?

You can’t handle the truth. The truth is starting to come out about baseball; and it ain’t pretty. You want to listen to Yogi Berra about baseball’s little problem? Or do you want to know what’s really going on? Berra says Giambi shouldn’t be allowed back with the Yankees. The same Berra who was Mickey Mantle’s teammate? Please.

The federal government’s vendetta against Barry Bonds has now put the spotlight on the cornucopia of “performance enhancing” agents baseball players have available to them (and have had available to them for decades); and before we start asking for asterisks, everybody better understand what’s at stake here.

If you take away amphetamines, you better start looking at taking away pain pills, because these players aren’t taking one and calling their doctor in the morning. And if you take away pain pills, you better start looking at taking away novocaine and cortisone injections.

You see, being a baseball player is hard; terrifically, amazingly, destructively hard on the human body. The season is fantastically long and grueling, and there’s no getting around it, without “enhancers,” players will find it hard to make it through the season. You’re talking more missed games, more minor injuries holding them back, you name it. Remember the glory heaped upon Curt Schilling for playing on his injured ankle? Pain pills, injections, and amphetamines were part and parcel of his ability to overcome his injury. Without them, he would’ve been bedridden.

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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